The largest city on the Italian Riviera is Genova (in English: Genoa), the birthplace of Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo). The city is full of narrow, winding streets, medieval buildings, and huge squares that are a fair representation of its past. Its historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the days spent here, you can enjoy many experiences worth relaxing on one of the local beaches the next day.
Why is Genoa unique?
Although its architecture and history are remarkable, this does not set it apart from other Italian cities. Its greatest attraction is its location, as it is a seaside town and the centre of the Italian Riviera. Many people set off from here to explore the fabulous coastal region. The coastline has charming towns and resorts like the world-famous Cinque Terre.
Map - Where is Genoa?
Genova is located in the Liguria region of Italy, directly on the northwest coast. It is also the centre of the area and the region's most important port city. It is located on the Italian Riviera, along the Gulf of Genova, which is the entrance to the Ligurian Sea and part of the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its location close to the border, France and Monaco are also close – you can drive across in a few hours.
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It was built on hilly terrain, and its historic centre stretches from the coast to the surrounding hills – some notable hills nearby, such as Castelletto, Righi, and Granarolo. The Apennine Mountains lie to the north, providing a picturesque backdrop to the city.
- Distance from Florence: 3 hours / 250 km
- Distance from Cinque Terre: 1.5 hours / 90 km
- Distance from Milan: 2 hours / 150 km
- Distance from Rome: 5 hours / 500 km
- Distance from Pisa: 2.5 hours / 160 km
- Distance from Nice, France: 2.5 hours / 195 km
- Distance from Monaco: 2.5 hours / 180 km
- The city's international airport is Cristoforo Colombo Airport. It serves domestic and international flights and is approximately 7.4 kilometres west of the city centre.
- You can use railway stations with good connections. Genova's Piazza Principe is one of its most important train stations.
- Its port is one of the busiest and most important in the Mediterranean, facilitating maritime trade and ferry connections to Corsica, Sardinia, and other destinations.
More about the city
- The city is divided into nine districts, each of which has its unique character.
- The Porto Antico (Old Port) is a central area that has been revitalized and transformed into a lively centre with attractions such as the Aquarium of Genova, museums, restaurants, and shops. From here, you can explore the narrow streets and alleys of the historical part. The labyrinth-like network of medieval streets is known as Caruggi.
- Moving away from the waterfront, you find areas such as Principe and Brignole, essential train stations in the city. These areas are well-connected and serve as transport hubs.
Things to see
The city has a vibrant cultural life with many museums, theatres, and art galleries. Don't worry for those who would rather be outdoors. Its streets, squares, and parks also promise great relaxation.
1. Porto Antico
The waterfront area, Porto Antico (Old Port), is a lively district with a mix of historic and modern buildings. On the promenade, you can enjoy picturesque views, visit restaurants, cafes, and shops, and discover attractions such as the Aquarium of Genova.
2. Historical centre
Its historic centre is a labyrinthine network of narrow streets and alleys. It is known as Caruggi in Italian and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Medieval architecture, historical buildings, and charming attractions characterize this part. It is lively with shops, cafes, and traditional trattorias serving local delicacies.
3. Via degli Orefici
Here, you find one of the narrowest streets in Europe, Via degli Orefici. This charming alley is located in the historic centre and is only 50 centimetres wide at its narrowest point.
4. Piazza De Ferrari
It is a bustling, significant square with a popular meeting point in the middle with the magnificent Neptune Fountain. The court is surrounded by notable buildings such as the Opera House or the Palazzo Ducale.
The Doge's Palace is a magnificent building that served as the residence of the Doge during the Maritime Republic, with stunning architecture and historical significance. Today, it can be visited as a museum, offering art exhibitions and historical exhibits.
The 12th-century cathedral is a religious landmark in the area, showcasing different architectural styles. The cathedral houses significant works of art, including the Sacro Catino, the mythical Holy Grail, and the Chapel of St. John the Baptist.
7. Via Garibaldi and Palazzi dei Rolli
Via Garibaldi is a street of impressive Renaissance palaces known collectively as the Palazzi dei Rolli. These palaces were once the residences of the aristocracy. Several museums are open to the public, showcasing remarkable art collections and lavish interiors.
The charming neighbourhood with colourful houses, a picturesque beach, and a small fishing port is perfect for walking and coring. This lovely neighbourhood is located east of the centre.
A museum dedicated to its maritime history, which houses exhibitions on shipbuilding, navigation, and naval history. We can discover life-size reconstructions of historic ships and learn about their naval traditions.
10. Castelletto Spianata
A panoramic terrace at the top of the Castelletto district with a breathtaking view of the surrounding area and the port.
Museum of archaeological finds, religious art, and historical objects in the former Sant'Agostino monastery.
12. Porta Soprana
A medieval gate that once marked its entrance is now preserved as a historical landmark.
13. Palazzo Reale
The Royal Palace - also known as Palazzo Stefano Balbi or Palazzo Balbi Senarega, is impressive in the heart of the historic centre. One of the most important historical buildings from the 17th century - with its beautiful architecture. It was the residence of the Balbi family, one of the most important noble families in the region. The palace has grand halls, richly decorated rooms, impressive frescoes, and a remarkable collection of art and antiquities. Today, the Palazzo Reale can be visited as a museum.
14. Casa di Colombo
Casa di Colombo is a house associated with Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer. While the exact birthplace of Columbus is still disputed, this house was either his childhood home or his family's home. It is a small stone building now serving as a museum in the heart of the historic centre.
The residence was built between 1886 and 1892 for Enrico Alberto D'Albertis. He was a prominent Italian sea captain and explorer. His travels have taken him to different parts of the world, including Africa, the Americas, and the Far East. The design of the castle and the objects inside reflect your travel experiences. Its structure was inspired by the architectural style of medieval fortifications and replaced a pre-existing 16th-century building known as the Castellaccio.
It is one of the largest aquariums in Europe, home to a vast collection of marine life, including dolphins, sharks, penguins, and tropical fish. The aquarium offers educational exhibits, interactive displays, and activities for all ages. It is worth a visit with children.
The 16th-century fortress is located on a hill next to the town. Its purpose was to protect the city against invasions, especially from the sea. The colossal stone structure has thick walls and several bastions. Its design reflects the military architecture of the time, focusing on defence. It has undergone various restoration projects over the years. The fortress, which can be visited today, hosts mainly temporary exhibitions, so it is worth checking whether we can enter in advance. We can only approach it by hiking.
Sights in the area
Take a day to go to the splendid Portofino further south. The fishing village is now a tourist magnet with painted houses and beautiful natural treasures.
Geoparco del Beigura
The global geopark, protected by UNESCO, is only 50 km from Genova. The area encompasses a variety of geological formations that tell the story of hundreds of millions of years. It is a natural history book of the Earth's past, from the ancient ocean floor to the glaciers. There are many hiking trails, and it is also possible to go mountain biking. The area around the geopark is full of local products, including cheeses, honey, and handicrafts. Many local producers stick to traditional methods, ensuring authentic flavours and excellent quality.
Seaside and beaches
The coastline of Genova and the surrounding Liguria region are characterized by their picturesque beauty, rugged cliffs, charming fishing villages, and crystal-clear waters. It has beaches where you can enjoy the sun, sand and sea.
- Boccadasse (5 km): a charming neighbourhood with a small pebbly beach. In its surroundings, colourful houses, a fishing port, and a calm seaside atmosphere await us.
- Nervi (10 km): the picturesque rocky coast of the Nervi district is in the eastern part of its coastline. There are several small coves and rocky beaches here, which are also perfect for sunbathing.
- Quinto al Mare (8 km): Quinto al Mare is another Genova area with a pebbly beach – a popular place among locals and tourists alike.
There are also rocky areas and sandy beaches where you can relax and sunbathe. These "beaches" offer swimming, sunbathing, and various water sports opportunities. Some beaches have bars and rentals, beach clubs, and restaurants, while others are more secluded and relaxed.
The following beaches can be found within 1 hour's drive from Genova (at a distance of 60 km):
- Arenzano: 30 kilometres west, Arenzano is a picturesque seaside village with sandy beaches.
- Camogli: 30 kilometres to the east is Camogli, with its sandy beach. The picturesque coastal settlement awaits you with beautiful, clear waters, colourful buildings, and a picturesque harbour.
- Santa Margherita Ligure: 35 kilometres to the east, Santa Margherita Ligure is a popular resort with a sandy beach and charming waterfront promenade. It is worth coming here for its elegant atmosphere and beautiful coastal scenery.
- Paraggi: you have to drive approximately 35 km east to reach the small coastal bay of Santa Margherita Ligure. On the rocky coast, the water is crystal clear turquoise blue, while behind, you are surrounded by lush vegetation.
- Portofino: 40 kilometres to the east is one of the most beautiful settlements in the area, Portofino. A famous resort is known for its luxury yachts, picturesque harbour, and beaches. Here, you will find a small pebble beach where we can relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
- Sestri Levante: 50 kilometres east is a charming place with two stunning beaches: Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) and Baia delle Favole (Bay of Tales). Baia del Silenzio is particularly renowned for its calm waters and intimate atmosphere.
Garibaldi is one of Italy's national heroes, who was a central figure in the unification of Italy in the 19th century. He was born in 1807 in Nice, then part of the Ligurian Republic. However, in Genoa, most of his revolutionary activity and planning came from here. The city celebrates its connection with Garibaldi in different ways. Streets were named after him; monuments were erected in his honour. His person is part of the city's heritage.
The mountains protect the city from the cold northern winds and contribute to a mild yearly climate. It has a Mediterranean climate characterized by mild and relatively wet winters and hot, dry summers. A significant amount of precipitation falls throughout the year, with the wettest months usually being October and November.
- Summer (June to August): Summer is generally hot and dry, with average temperatures ranging from 26°C to 29°C. However, occasional heat waves can bring more elevated temperatures. The area receives a lot of sunshine this season with minimal rainfall.
- Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November): Spring and autumn are transitional seasons with mild temperatures and moderate rainfall. The average temperature in these seasons ranges from 14°C to 23°C. It is advisable to bring a light jacket or sweater, as the evenings can be cooler.
- Winter (December to February): winter is relatively mild compared to other parts of Italy. The average temperature is between 7°C and 12°C. Although generally favourable, it can sometimes be cold, and temperatures may drop further. Precipitation is more frequent in winter, and snow can also occur in the surrounding mountains.
The countryside reflects the region's coastal location and culinary traditions. A wide selection of seafood, pasta specialities, and unique flavours can be found in local trattorias and restaurants.
- Pestos: Pesto sauce comes from Genova and is a staple of Ligurian cuisine. It is made from fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. It is typically served with pasta, but it can also be found as a sauce or spread on various types of bread.
- Trofie al Pesto: Trofie is a pasta made with pesto sauce.
- Focaccia: Focaccia is a type of flatbread that occupies a special place in local gastronomy. It has a soft texture and is typically served with olive oil, coarse salt, and sometimes herbs such as rosemary. It can be eaten as a snack, appetizer, or accompaniment to a meal.
- Farinata: Farinata is a thin, crispy pancake made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. It is a popular street food often eaten as a tasty snack. It is sold in smaller shops and is typically served warm and freshly baked.
- Cappon Magro: Cappon Magro is often prepared for special occasions and holidays. A layered salad containing a variety of seafood such as prawns, clams, and octopus, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs.
- Stoccafisso alla Genovese : Stoccafisso alla Genovese is made from dried and salted cod. The fish is typically cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, and capers, resulting in a tasty and hearty dish.
The city's rich and fascinating past spans more than two millennia. Here is an overview of some critical periods and events in its history:
- Ancient origin: its territory was inhabited by the Ligurians, an old Italic people even before the Roman era. Its origins can be traced back to the 4th century BC when the Ligurians established it as a small settlement.
- Roman and Byzantine rule: It came under Roman rule in the 2nd century BC and flourished as a Roman colony. It served as an important port and trade hub, taking advantage of its strategic location. It remained a thriving settlement even during the Byzantine Empire and played a role in the administration and defence of the region.
- Maritime Republic: In the Middle Ages, it became a powerful maritime republic and a major player in Mediterranean trade. Its skilled sailors and merchants created a vast water network, dominating trade routes and colonies in the Mediterranean. Its influence extended to regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. The period between the 11th and 13th centuries was its golden age.
- Conflicts and Renaissance: It has faced many conflicts and power struggles in its past. It began rivalries with maritime republics such as Venice and Pisa and faced invasions from different foreign powers. Despite these challenges, it experienced a cultural and artistic renaissance in the 16th century. Significant artists, architects, and intellectuals contributed to its creative and intellectual development during this time.
- The Napoleonic era and the unification of Italy: It came under French control in the late 18th and early 19th centuries during the Napoleonic era. It merged into the French Empire and then into the Kingdom of Sardinia. With the unification of Italy in 1861, it became part of the newly formed Italian nation.
- Industrialization and World Wars: It underwent significant industrialization and development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It became a major centre for shipbuilding, steelmaking, and other industries. At the same time, it also faced the consequences of both world wars and suffered damage during the bombings of the Second World War.
- Modern Age: The post-war period focused on reconstruction and economic recovery. It diversified its economy, developed port facilities, and invested in tourism and services. Today, it is still an important industrial and financial centre in Italy, with a thriving cultural scene and a rich historical heritage.
It hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, including the International Boat Show, one of the most important boat shows in the world. Worldwide, it attracts marine enthusiasts and professionals. The Science Festival promotes scientific knowledge and innovation, while the Summer Festival brings renowned musicians and performers to the region.
Its public transport is comfortable and efficient. Here's a quick one about it:
- Metro: the subway, known as the Metropolitana di Genova, consists of a single line (Linea 1) that connects the centre with the outskirts. You can buy tickets in machines.
- Bus: The local bus network is operated by AMT Genova. The buses cover a wide area, including the centre, the outer parts, and neighbouring settlements. Tickets can also be purchased from the driver.
- Funicular: Two lines are operating, one is the Zecca-Righi and the other is Sant'Anna. The funicular is a scenic and unique way to reach the city's high parts, such as the Righi Hill and the Castelletto district.
- Trains: It has two main train stations, Genova Piazza Principe and Genova Brignole. These stations serve regional and long-distance train services.
- Ferries: Its port is an important transport hub, providing ferry connections to Sardinia, Corsica, and other Mediterranean locations.
- Bike sharing: The bike-sharing service called "BikeMi" allows you to rent a bike for short trips.
Parking can be a challenge due to limited space and high demand. Here is some information about the parking situation:
- Street parking: Street parking is available, but it can be difficult to find a free space, especially in busy areas and peak times. Parking is subject to a fee, depending on location and duration.
- Parking garages: Several parking garages and multi-level parking lots are scattered around. These usually charge hourly or daily rates, which can vary depending on the location and duration of parking.
- Park-and-Ride: Park-and-ride facilities on the city's outskirts allow you to leave your car behind and use public transport such as buses or the metro.
The origin of its name
Although the origin of its name is uncertain, it is believed to come from the Latin word "Genua", which means "knee". This may indicate that it is at the "knee" of Italy's boots. Another theory suggests that the name may be of Etruscan origin, as Etruscans inhabited the region before the Roman era. However, if it exists, the exact meaning and linguistic roots of the Etruscan term remain uncertain.
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